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Elan Vitae


  • J Bristol


Jane Bernecky is a floral artist and boutique dahlia grower from western Pennsylvania. Her unique bouquets have touched thousands of lives through personal deliveries, events, and impromptu garden tours. She is a juried artisan member of the Pennsylvania Wilds Cooperative, a network of creative entrepreneurs, organizations and communities based in the PA Wilds, a premier outdoor recreation destination.

Her creative journey began at an early age and has taken on many forms before flourishing through entrepreneurship. To follow is our conversation:

JB for EV: Tell us about your journey as an artist - when did you first experience creative flow and through what mediums have you allowed it to be expressed since then?

Jane: Writing was my first medium. I can’t draw. I always loved to read - preferred reading over TV or anything even as a child. I was that odd student who loved writing compositions in school. I could easily churn out five or six pages when the requirement was only two. I still write poetry when I have time, but not often.

I have always been introverted and spend a lot of time alone. So my creative endeavors tend to be things I do alone. Photography was a natural extension of my floral business. It was born out of sheer necessity. It just so happened that I loved doing it so have had the opportunity to develop in that way creatively even though I wasn’t seeking a new medium.

I love the way taking a picture puts something in a different perspective than what our eyes are capable of seeing in the moment. Sometimes I’ll capture a shot and not see a little bug hiding inside a flower until I see the photo later.

JB for EV: How did floral design become your medium of choice?

Jane: I didn’t have an ah-ha moment. It never occurred to me to have a floral business. It was actually kind of a fluke. I grew flowers for years - since my early 20s. Around 2013 or 2014, someone walked by my garden and asked if I sold them and if I’d be willing to make a vase up. I did. They were thrilled. A couple of weeks later, someone else asked. I was nervous about having to create something again, but I did it. They, too, were thrilled with the result. It just grew very naturally and organically from there.

I originally considered selling as a wholesaler to other florists. Something I didn’t know then was that florists follow recipes, so if a particular flower doesn’t appear on their recipe card, they don’t purchase it. Back when I first started growing dahlias, they weren’t included in the common floral recipes, so nobody wanted to purchase wholesale at that time.

JB for EV: Why dahlias?

Back in 1999 or 2000, I was wanting to do some landscaping at my home. I’ve always liked different and unique, so I didn’t want the same stuff everyone else had. One of the local grocery stores had bulbs for sale, so I chose a random tuber, not knowing what I was getting, and put it in the dirt. Luckily, it grew - and was the most beautiful white and deep wine purple dahlia. At the end of that summer, I pulled it out and then replanted the following spring. I kept replanting that particular bulb for a few years before deciding to invest in some additional bulbs. I would pick them up randomly. So, little by little I started adding to my collection. It went to about 50, then 100, then 200. After discovering online shopping, my collection skyrocketed to over 500.

I lost my collection over the winter of 2019-2020 due to a power outage that knocked out the heat while I was at work. I tried to bring them inside to save, but that spring, nothing grew. I probably lost 15-20k worth of tubers and had to start all over again. I lost varieties that I can’t find now. I have 75-100 varieties right now. I have limited space to grow on, so have had to make some decisions color-wise and space-wise to accommodate more and more events which require many more stems of the same color as opposed to the breadth of variety I went for in the beginning.

JB for EV: Let’s talk about the business of creativity - how does running a thriving business based on your creativity affect your creative flow?

It doesn’t. I love what I’m doing. I don’t think about it really. Arranging flowers as a business feels like a natural extension of my creativity. I just follow the lines of a particular stem and allow the texture and movement to define the arrangement. And that is pretty much how I run my business as well. Organically, following the needs of my community and clientele.

JB for EV: Where does creative flow come from - what inspires/motivates you?

Being by myself really inspired me. I learned early that I better figure things out on my own because nobody else was going to do it for me. I have so many power tools - more than most guys. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself or question myself. If I need something I just have to go do it. You know, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do for your livelihood. Mine happens to make other people happy, and that means so much to me because I know what it’s like to be in a very dark place. If I can do something to cheer someone up or make them feel special, then I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Customers are relying on me to extend their message through to their loved one. I live in a small town, so I have the benefit of knowing most of my customers. If I see them around town, I know their style of clothing, makeup, etc, so I can create something according to their taste. I don’t want to just stick flowers in a vase and say I did it. I want that person to know they were chosen for them. It’s personal. Unique. Special. Not cookie-cutter.

JB for EV: You are in a unique position that not all creatives face, which is co-creating with living things. What is that like to know your creativity is tied to the whimsy of mother nature?

It’s awesome. It’s a wonderful experience because I never knew what I wanted to be. I thought about being a lawyer or archaeologist or a biologist. So many avenues of science and nature always interested me. I like the fact that it’s not just a hobby anymore - I get to see and interact with this stuff up close and personal. Some days I don’t cut a certain flower because there is a spider web in front of it and I don’t want to disturb the little guy’s lunch. I wish more people would take the time to observe these things and realize how the ecosystem really works.

These aren’t just flowers to put in vases. I have a ton of host plants that I use only for pollinators. It’s fun to see what kind of butterflies and bugs - even snakes! - they’re welcome too - hang around. We need to learn to tone it down a bit and leave some space for these guys. That’s what I want to do here. I don’t have a lot of room, but I leave things alone. This summer I had a bunny nest in one flower bed so I didn’t plant anything there. So I sacrificed a 5 x 16 bed for baby bunnies. Business second, critters first!

JB for EV: How would you like to see your creative endeavors expand in the coming years?

I have some things in the works. I’m working on my shoppe. Right now, I’m taking a few days off after wedding season. There are some additional artistic avenues I’d like to explore . . . nothing specific to announce yet, but in the works! I hope that what I’ve done here inspires people to look at their yards and see what is possible. To plant more flowers, to bring more beauty and nature into their spaces.

JB for EV: What would you tell someone who was just starting to feel an inkling of creative flow come through in some way and they’re not sure how to express it yet - don’t know where to start or what to try?

Jane: Don’t try, just do it. Do what comes naturally to you. Whether it’s crayons and construction paper, or writing - whatever you have available, do it. Express yourself and don’t be afraid to BE yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong or stupid or ugly. Don’t let anyone tell you who to be.

If you love doing something and it wants to come through you, it’s never going to go away, so you might as well go with it. People have been telling me my whole life that someday I’ll grow out of it, but I’m the girl still pulling earth worms off the sidewalk and putting them into the dirt. Still at 50 years old. Don’t feel like you have to be part of the group and doing what everyone else is doing. However you feel drawn to create, blot everything else out and just go with it. If you don’t, you’ll be quelling that inner passion in you that keeps reaching into your soul and grabs it and hits everything you are with that nitrous oxide boost like nothing else can.

If someone took my camera away and my pens and paper and flowers away, I’d die. We’re all like flowers in a certain way. You can want to be a tulip all you want, but if you’re on the equator you’re never gonna grow because it’s too damn hot there for you. You have to be in an environment that will allow you to grow into the beautiful thing that you are. If you’re in the wrong place and wrong conditions, you’re not going to get there. So create that space and environment that nurtures your soul. I believed in me when nobody else did - even seasoned professionals. If you know you have something - you feel it inside you, hold onto it. Maybe others won’t see it right now, but someday it will all come together. Stick with your knowing.

When I lost my job, I just happened to be this weirdo who liked growing flowers . . . and the rest is history.


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